Camas School District administrators this week began reaching out to staff members who will likely be impacted by the district’s looming budget cuts.
“We are targeting a $6 million reduction, which will help us stabilize over the next few years,” CSD Superintendent John Anzalone said during the Camas School Board’s meeting on Monday, March 27. “We hope that, by making some reductions, we’ll be in a much better place over the next two to three years and in perpetuity.”
The school district is expected to make $6 million in cuts and use $1.4 million from its general fund reserves to make up for an expected $7.4 million revenue shortfall in 2023-24. On March 13, Anzalone told the school board and community that the district’s central administrative office will likely shoulder the largest share of the budget cuts, with an expected $1.77 million, or 30% of the total budget cuts, coming from the central administrative office.
The superintendent’s “high level” overview also called for:
- $1.56 million (26% of the total budget cuts) to come from the district’s high schools;
- $1.16 million (19% of the cuts) to come from the district’s middle schools;
- $1 million (17% of the cuts) come from the district’s elementary schools; and
- $510,000 in cuts that were still undetermined.
Anzalone also said earlier this month that the district was hoping to spare classified staff, which includes bus drivers, custodial staff, food service employees and paraprofessionals and other non-teaching staff that, according to Anzalone, have “taken the bulk of the cuts” in recent years, as much as possible.
The Camas School Board Monday unanimously approved a resolution that will allow Anzalone and other administrators to begin having “very difficult” conversations with staff likely to be impacted by the 2023-24 budget cuts.
“These are very, very difficult decisions that are not being taken lightly,” Anzalone said Monday. “A lot of sleepless nights go into these decisions.”
Anzalone added that the notification process will be done in a confidential manner, with staff members’ privacy in mind.
“We will be having one-on-one meetings beginning (Tuesday, March 28) and, hopefully, concluding by Friday,” Anzalone said of the staff notifications. “These will be very confidential and … heartfelt conversations.”
The superintendent said district administrators and budget committee members have taken feedback from students, parents, staff and the community into account when deciding how to reduce the district’s budget by $6 million, or around 6% of the overall budget, before the start of the 2023-24 school year.
“It is so important to hear from our staff, our parents and, most importantly, from our students,” Anzalone said. “We will take everything into account.”
Camas School Board members, along with Anzalone, attended a 17th Legislative District town hall on Saturday, March 18, and urged the three Republican legislators who represent Camas and Washougal — Sen. Lynda Wilson and Reps. Paul Dennis and Kevin Waters — to address the district’s decreasing “regionalization” funds allotted to school districts in areas with high housing costs as a way to help retain educators and other workers by paying higher salaries.
“We were receiving 12% a few years ago,” Anzalone told the legislators, noting that the state’s school-funding formula has since decreased those regionalization funds by 1% per year, which equals roughly $1 million per year in losses for the Camas School District. “We are now at 9%. Will that last in perpetuity or will it rebate back to 12%?”
Harris said he would keep in touch with the local school district legislators to make sure the legislature addressed the regionalization question.
“In the next week or so, you and I need to keep in touch and keep an eye open for that,” Harris told Anzalone. “We will make sure that, if it’s not in the budget, it can be added.”
One week later, the news coming out of the Legislature was not so optimistic.
“There is some concerning news,” Jasen McEathron, the school district’s director of business services and operations, told Anzalone and school board members Monday. “Potentially, we would lose three percent (from regionalization funds), which adds up to a six-percent loss over four years. It’s a pretty heavy hit.”
Though most districts in Clark County would see no change to current regionalization rates, under the state House’s proposed education budget, the Camas School District would see its regionalization money decline by about $3 million.
That loss could be offset by the Legislature’s proposed 4% increase in “experience factor” funds, which go to school districts like Camas that have a high number of experienced educators who garner higher salaries.
School board member Connie Hennessey expressed frustration over the proposed state funding.
“Paul Harris said, ‘Call me next week, and we’ll take care of you,” Hennessey said. “Well, I don’t feel very taken care of.”
Hennessey said board members would reach out to the state legislators to “find out why they made these changes … and why the decided Camas doesn’t need that (regionalization) money anymore.”
Camas School Board President Corey McEnry added that about 80% of the district’s revenues come from the state and that school officials have heard education “is not necessarily a priority for (the Legislature) right now.”
Hennessey urged the CSD community to reach out to their state representatives.
“This is something everybody can talk to our legislators about,” Hennessey added, addressing the crowd of parents, staff and students who had attended the Board’s March 27 meeting to advocate for their own schools, teachers and programs ahead of the budget cuts. “Tell them how funding impacts the changes in our schools. They’ve got to hear these stories.”
CSD community weighs in
The school district recently hosted an online ThoughtExchange to gauge the CSD community’s thoughts regarding the $6 million budget cuts.
The majority of responses urged district administrators to prioritize teachers and staff who work directly with students; keep good classroom sizes; and “staff commitment to student well-being.”
“Mental health should not be sacrificed and counselors cannot be reduced — we’ve been hearing that loud and clear,” Anzalone said Monday.
Community members who participated in the ThoughtExchange urged CSD leaders to continue to address students’ social-emotional needs. A few of the “thoughts” that ranked the highest with the ThoughtExchange participants included the following statements: Post-pandemic transition and social media greatly affect our students’ mental heal; counselors cannot be reduced; counselors are essential to provide students additional support to keep productive learning environments in our classrooms; and post-pandemic, students’ academic, social-emotional needs increased.
“Keep the staff who have a direct impact on education, health (and) well-being,” community members said.
Middle schools provide an important transitional phase, and these systems must be supported with smaller student-to-staff ratios to help students be prepared for high school, accordingto the sur ey results.
The ThoughtExchange, which closed Monday, March 20, also highlighted stark differences in opinions when it came to issues involving class sizes, equity and staff or extracurricular cuts, Anzalone said, adding that the two sides also had some common ground.
For example, of the 249 people who weighed in on equity issues, the majority (189) were in the camp that gave more weight to protecting equity programs and agreed the district should “make sure all students feel accepted regardless of their background, and ensure that everyone is taught about equity.”
The remainder (60) felt less enthusiastic about equity programs and were more likely to agree that the district should “eliminate equity, diversity and inclusion infrastructure.”
But there was some common ground between the two sides, including high marks given to statements prioritizing staff members who work directly with students and making it clear that “the kids should be our first priority.”
Anzalone said district administrators would take the results of the ThoughtExchange into account when deciding their proposed budget cuts.
Families support choice high schools
One of the ideas that has come up during recent budget discussions is the possibility of combining some of the district’s smaller, “choice” schools, which includes Hayes Freedom High School, the project-based learning (PBL) Odyssey Middle School and Discovery High School, and the fully remote Camas Connect Academy, which serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Many supporters of the current Hayes Freedom High School model came to the school board’s Feb. 27 meeting to support the non-traditional high school.
Anzalone sent a message to CSD families on Feb. 22, saying rumors that the district was going to close or move Hayes Freedom were false.
“We mentioned in our communication on (Feb. 1) that our leadership team is examining ways to reduce our budget by a target of $6 million, representing 5% of our budget,” Anzalone stated in the letter to families.. “One of many options under consideration is looking for ways to share staffing among our smaller, choice high schools: Camas Connect Academy, Discovery High School, and Hayes Freedom High School.”
On Monday, nearly 70 members of the Hayes Freedom High School community wrote an open letter to the district addressing the district’s response to concerns of the school’s closure or move.
“Unfortunately, the damage that was already done to the relationship between the Hayes community and District leadership will be difficult to repair,” the letter stated, adding that the district had shared a budget reduction plan that included the possibility of relocating Hayes Freedom to the Discovery High campus with Hayes Freedom’s principal in February and told her she could share the proposal with others. “The threat was made to consolidate (effectively close) Hayes, and then that threat was publicly disregarded as ‘rumor.’ This feels disingenuous to say the least, and makes it difficult for us to trust, particularly when the same voices who now promise that Hayes will be protected were also those that dismissed documented truth as ‘rumor’ and ‘false statements.’ This letter is a call to action and a plea for a better public response than what we have.”
The letter-writers added that they did not view other CSD schools and choice programs as the enemy of the Hayes Freedom community.
“(We do) not regard any of the schools in our district as adversaries. We fully recognize that potential consolidation will also deeply impact the staff and students of any of the ‘smaller, choice high schools,’ and we believe they too should have the right to confront any similar threat to the community they have built and love,” the letter stated. “We as a community want to state unequivocally that our concerns rest squarely with the Camas School District and its communication around these events.”
On Monday, school board members also heard from several supporters of the district’s project-based learning (PBL) schools: Odyssey Middle and Discovery High, which celebrated its first graduating class in 2022.
Many of the PBL supporters who attended the Monday night school board meeting and wrote letters of support said they feared consolidating staff would upset the effectiveness of the PBL programs, which emphasize collaborative learning and finding hands-on solutions to problems.
Drew Clark, the parent of Odyssey and Discovery students, also wrote to the Board, urging them to consider the uniqueness of the PBL programs.
“Witnessing firsthand the incredible impact that the PBL program has had on my children’s lives has been an absolute blessing. Their critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills have flourished, and I see them growing into passionate, responsible citizens,” Clark stated. “The thought of losing qualified PBL administration and staff due to consolidation is both disheartening and terrifying, as it would jeopardize the progress our program has made and the future growth of our children. It is clear that the most logical consolidation, if it must happen, would be to combine Hayes High School with the Camas Community Academy. The PBL campus serves 500 students, while CCA and Hayes each have approximately 150 students. By consolidating CCA and Hayes, one administrator would oversee 300 students, a number much more manageable than the 650 students that would result from combining CCA with the PBL campus.”
Clark also urged the Board to “maintain PBL-focused leadership.”
“If there is a change in leadership at (Discovery High), it is crucial that the new administration is committed to the PBL philosophy and the success of our program,” Clark stated. “Please listen to the voices of parents like myself who have seen the transformative power of PBL in our children’s lives. We entrust our children’s futures to your decisions, and we implore you to make choices that will continue to support and nurture their growth.”